Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Catch and release

“Catch and release” is a term common in game-fishing tournaments. Catch a fish and reel it in, weigh it for the record, and throw it back in the water in order to preserve the stock. In Cayman, the term is also applied, cynically, to our justice system. Catch and try a criminal, take him to court, and throw him back on the streets again.

Sometimes there is a brief time in prison between court and release, but not always. Our Prosecution Service doesn’t always prosecute a bad guy for the correct crime, and doesn’t always prosecute him enthusiastically when it is the correct crime. It’s a small island, and people know people.

Our judges’ sentences are erratic; concurrent terms are the norm instead of consecutive. Only a few convicts seem to serve their full sentences in prison. Parole is readily granted; the Probation Service seems to operate more generously than is warranted. And although Police lock-ups are notoriously dreadful places, the actual prison is not as tough as my old boarding-school used to be.

I don’t know how much help convicts receive when they are released from prison; it’s all pretty hush-hush. Cayman’s governance in general operates on a need-to-know basis, and the public doesn’t need to know much at all, according to our rulers. Policing and justice are secretive, and scarcely monitored. Corruption is universally suspected, and no serious effort is made to dispel that suspicion. Recidivism is rife. So. How can we (our society) get our repeat-criminals off the carousel?

The latest new idea is a day-release program that will (hopefully) persuade selected convicts that they can cope with life after prison. They will become useful members of society, earning an honest living and not go back to their criminal careers and bounce in and out of pokey the rest of their lives.

It hasn’t been decided yet what jobs they will be doing, or how much they will be paid, or – most important – what degree of criminality will be addressed by the program. The public wouldn’t stand for any baby-rapists to be chosen for the list, or violent offenders of any kind, surely. Or seducers of children, or gang members. Drug-dealers would probably be out of consideration, mainly because it’s hard to believe they ever retire from such a lucrative line of business. That leaves only petty thieves, burglars and embezzlers, really.

The voluntary risk-taking employers would have to be very community-minded people indeed, wouldn’t they – very determined to thwart Cayman’s drift towards the development of a permanently lawless underclass. One must wish them well, and their auditors and insurers…

To what extent will our politicians and Civil Servants cooperate? How will the employment of convicts fit into government’s existing labour-policy? Will Caymanian convicts on day-release be given priority over the three thousand supposedly unemployed Caymanians? Some of the latter may be shiftless and lazy, but they are not convicts, or at least not at the moment.

 Will the convicts receive wages at the going rate, or will they have to work for nothing, like slaves? Free labour generally has difficulty competing with slave-labour, for obvious reasons. Would the risk-taking employers be exempted from the Labour Law, and the Minimum Wage law when we have one?

 And another thing… Half of all Cayman’s Civil Servants are reckoned to run private businesses from their desks. Would they favour themselves in the allocation of no-wage convict workers? Damn right they would.

What about government’s permanent immigration policy, which requires that Caymanian citizens be hired and promoted ahead of Work Permit foreigners, regardless of ability? Might employers of convicts be rewarded with extra Work Permits, say one-for-one? Huh. Not likely! So how would they be rewarded? Public approbation, alone?